How does God's sovereignty work together with free will?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

Community answers are sorted based on votes. The higher the vote, the further up an answer is.

Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
It is impossible for us to fully understand the dynamics of a holy God molding and shaping the will of man. Scripture is clear that God knows the future (Matthew 6:8; Psalm 139:1-4) and has total s...

July 01 2013 13 responses Vote Up Share Report

Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
Sovereignty and free will are related in the same way that a sovereign king does not remove the will of his subjects, but does set up boundaries/limits in which they can act. If they disobey, they are punished. The king does not even force the actions of his military or servants, but the soldiers and servants have even stricter discipline and rules binding them than the civilians. If they disobey, they are court-martialed or punished. If they obey and do good service, they are promoted or rewarded. The king also delegates authority; his authority even over his highest ministers to guide, punish, and reward is a mark of his sovereign power.

As such, God as all-sovereign King governs a people that are capable of free volition, within the limits He gives and under His laws.

How does God's supreme sovereignty, in particular, play out?

* He puts boundaries and limits on nature. (Jer 5:22, Job 38:4-41, Job 9:4-9, Ps 104:1-13, Lev 26:3-5, II Chron 7:11-16, Jer 8:7, Jer 10:13)

* He puts boundaries and limits on the life and history of man and the nations (Job 14:5, Acts 17:26, Num 34:1-12, II Chron 13:4-18, I Kings 9:5, Ps 2:1-12, Jer 45:4, Luke 12:25, II Kings 7:1-20, Gen 22:8-14, Isa 45:9-13, Dan 4:34, Dan 2:21)

* He makes provision for nature and man (I Chron 29:12-15, James 1:17, Psalm 84:3, Psalm 104:14-23, Psalm 104:27-30, Psalm 12:5, Matt 6:26)

* He tasks us as His servants to perform His will (Acts 1:8, Rom 12:2, II Cor 10:13-15, Matt 14:13, I Thess 5:12-18, I Pet 2:15, Heb 10:36, I Cor 4:1, Rom 2:13)

* He gives us power to perform His will (Ex 10:1-20, Rev 11:6, Acts 1:8, Heb 11; Phil 2:12-13, Ezra 6:1-12, I Pet 4:10, Mark 16:15-18, Is 45:1-7)

* He sets the standard of righteousness (Rom 1:17, Psalm 18:30, Eph 2:3, Ps 119:3, Deut 32:4, Ps 145:17, Is 5:16, Is 51:6, Dan 9:14, Jer 9:24)

* He punishes the wicked and is the final judge of the fate of man (I Pet 3:10-12, Rev 20:11-15, Isa 13:11, Rom 6:23, Psalm 145:20, Rom 2:6-10, II Thess 2:8)

* He sets the rules by which deliverance, forgiveness, and pardon are obtained (Num 25:22-29, Jer 26:1-6, II Chron 7:14, John 3:16, Heb 10:11-18, Luke 4:14-21, Heb 9:22, Matt 5:29, Isa 45:22-25)

* He makes righteous laws and decrees (Ex 19:12-23, Lev 20:8, Psalm 93:5, Num 23:19, Deut 6:1, Rom 1:32, Rom 5:18, Rom 10:4)

* He appoints others to carry out His decrees [God delegates] (Heb 1:14, Matt 25:14-30, Hab 1:6, Zech 11:16, Amos 6:4, Acts 3:26, Gal 4:6, John 3:31-36, II Chron 18:21, I Kings 14:14, I John 4:10)

*He punishes the servants that do not follow his decrees (Matt 25:24-30, II Pet 2:4-22, Mal 3:17-18, Matt 18:21-35)

* He binds even time and space to submit to His eternal plan (Heb 4:7, Rom 16:25-27, Rom 8:22-25, Rev 21:21, II Pet 3:3-10, I Cor 2:7, I Pet 1:20, Isa 46:9-10, Acts 2:23)

* His kingdom is eternal and cannot be destroyed by man or Satan (Dan 7:13-27, Eph 1:15-23, I Chron 29:10-13, Rev 1:18, II Pet 1:10-11, Ps 145:13, Dan 6:26, Dan 2:44, Matt 6:19-20)

A fine example of authority and willful obedience working together is from Matt 8:5-18.

A centurion approaches Jesus and asks Him to come heal his servant. Jesus asks "shall I (personally) come heal him"? The centurion says no, but asks for "Jesus' word" instead. The centurion is a man under authority (the king, higher officers) but is also over other soldiers. He tells them "Go", and they go. They do not go because they are forced by the centurion, but because they having willingly submitted themselves to the authority of the centurion. As such, the centurion has faith that if Jesus merely commands it, then it will be done (and it is!).

In short: The ability for man to act in obedience under God's commands, or rebel and disobey, or do delegated tasks, is actually a mark of God's supreme sovereign power and of God's authority to set laws and punish. Believing that man has a free will to act and obey or disobey supports God's supreme power and kingship.

October 30 2014 5 responses Vote Up Share Report

Raccoo Bob Johnson Layperson. Self Educated Theologically - see full bio
Suppose you are accosted by a robber with a gun and they say: "Give me your money or I'll kill you right now." So, you give them the money. Did they force us to give them the money and we had no choice? Did we give them the money of our own free will. Or not?

We need to define free will. In this situation you had free will. You chose to give the money instead of die. There was a choice. Why did you make that choice? You made that choice because your desire for life outweighed your desire for the money.

Choices are always made on that basis of your greatest desire at the moment. 

I have a desire to lose weight. But when I drove past a Dairy Queen yesterday my desire for ice cream was greater that my desire to lose weight. So I stopped and got a cone.

We always have a choice. But in a sense we don't. This is because our choice is always based on our greatest desire. Our choice isn't free. It is based on what we desire. 

Desires are based on who we are. They're also based on our ability. We may desire to fly like a bird, but we cannot because we don't have the ability to do so. 

So what does the Bible have to say about this?

Well, the Bible is clear that we don't have the ability to choose God. 

John 6:65 says "no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." This negates our ability. John 6:37 says that all those that the Father gives to Jesus will come to Him. This means that those who are given do come to Jesus. If you are given, you come. The implication is that if you are not given, you don't come. Indeed, you cannot. That's what "No one can..." means.

As far as desire is concerned, Lydia's heart was opened before she even paid attention to what Paul was saying. John 3:3 says that unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom. How can you desire God if you cannot see the kingdom and your heart isn't opened to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Romans 3:11-12 says that no one understands or even seeks God and they are altogether worthless - no, not even one. Genesis 6 says about people: "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." How can we desire God if this is our condition, according to the Bible.

I could quote verse after verse after verse about total depravity - proving that our desire is not for God.

Both our desire for God and our ability to see or choose Him are corrupted by the Fall. We are spiritually DEAD. Consider a spiritual corpse. Dead. Dead. Dead. No life at all. That's why Jesus said that in order to be saved we need to be born again. It is an appropriate description.

In your physical life, did you choose to be born? No. Did you choose to live once you were born? Yes. Every baby's desire is to live. No baby chooses to die. (caveat: the analogy isn't perfect - because of imperfection, some babies die - but not because they choose to). In the same way being born again is not a choice: John 1:12-13 says: " But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. It says right there "not the will of the flesh or the will of man." 

"But that's not Fair" we cry, because we know some people aren't born again. But Paul anticipates our frustration. He says in Romans 9:16 "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." He also says in Rom 9:19 " You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 

Those who don't get saved get what they desire - and what they therefore deserve. It is not God. Those who get saved get what they don't deserve. And that is Mercy.

So, are our wills violated when God sovereignly chooses us? No. Once born again we desire Him. If He didn't choose us? We still get our desire - not Him.

May 04 2015 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Stringio Dan Cartwright
The Bible teaches us that God, as creator, is totally sovereign over his creation. The Bible also teaches us that man has a will that is ‘free’ to act in accordance with what his/her heart desires. Call it ‘free choice’. The Bible also teaches us that because of the sin of Adam, we are by nature enemies of God (Rom 5:10a). The Bible tells us that the carnal (natural) mind is hostile to God and cannot please him (Rom 8:7-8).

At the same time, we are held accountable for our actions. Acts 2:23 tells us that Christ was delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God at the hands of lawless men who will be held accountable for their actions. God is sovereign and we are responsible.

Both are in the Bible.

I don’t think our limited minds can fully comprehend the relationship between the two, but they are both taught in scripture and we should rest in their truth and leave the mystery to God.

November 28 2014 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Robin Snelgar Professor and Head of Department of Industrial Psychology
We like to believe that we have free will, but it is clear that God is the providential God who is minutely in control of all things to the finest detail. This is evident in the Bible on a number of occasions when we see man's free will and God's sovereignty revealed in the same passage. For example, after Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, and suffered years of struggle, even in prison, he met face-to-face with his brothers. They were fearful because Joseph was the second most powerful man in Egypt at the time, but he told them not to be afraid because even through they had sold him and had meant it for evil! God had meant it for good. In fact, he told the that it was God who had sent him there, and not them. They believed that they had free will, but God was acting providentially in and through their actions (Genesis 45:4ff). 

The greatest example of this is Jesus Christ on the cross. Men meant that act for evil, but God meant it for good, and as a result of man's desperately evil actions, God achieved the single most powerful act of salvation and redemption which changed all of history forever. So, this is precisely how man's free will and God's sovereignty work together.

December 02 2014 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Philip medium Philip Davies
This question is based on the assumption that Man has a free will. There are not many places in the Bible which support unequivocally the idea of free will. But there are many places which suggest otherwise. Paul in Romans 9 wrestles with the idea that the Jews have rejected Christ. He then writes a complex chapter with very hard arguments about the potter and the clay. What he does NOT do is simply whip out the free-will defence. It would have been so easy to say, as many of us would today, they had the free will not to.... but he never uses that argument. Interesting isn't it? This is why Luther instead of writing about the freedom of the will, wrote about the bondage of will.

December 02 2014 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Edwin Danny Reaid
Sovereignty is:
Of God, his absolute right to do all things according to his own good pleasure.

(Dan 4:25). that you shall be driven from men, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field, and you shall be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet with the dew of the sky, and seven times shall pass over you; until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will.

(Dan 4:35) All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or ask him, What are you doing?

Since, God is sovereign and in control of (all) things, then when He does not act on something, then that is an action on His part. (No action is an action). The real mystery in the sovereignty of God and Man's freewill is why He has (Elected) and (Chosen) to do things in the way he has ordained.

(Ephesians 1:11-14)
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

(Romans 9:16) KJV
So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 

(John 1:12-13) KJV
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 

All of the Glory goes to God for we do not share in that Glory. It is all about Him and not about us.

(Isaiah 42:8 KJV) I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. 

February 18 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Stringio Chris Dibbern
The LORD God is sovereign over freewill in the same way we are sovereign over a spider on the wall. If I tap beside that spider, I know it will freely choose to scurry in the opposite direction. How much more can the Lord do this?

More than that, God designed our personalities! He's not interacting with beings He doesn't know or understand. He designed us knowing the full implications of who we are. Perhaps we'll run _toward_ His finger when He taps... :-)

There's an age-old "paradox"-- can God make a mountain so big He Himself cannot move it? If you say yes, then how is He omnipotent, since there now exists a mountain he can't move? If you say no, you are led to the same conclusion-- how can an omnipotent God _not_ be able to do something? Modern logicians will say this is a nonsense paradox; it exists only as an artifact of our language's ability to express pure nonsense ("find me a number between 2 and 2 not equal to 2" or "can God smell purple?"). I agree it might be nonsense, but I think there's still something of value, here, anyway. The solution? God can make mountains He both can and can't move.

To find such a mountain, go look in the mirror. :-)

March 19 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Stringio Vin Smith Concert Pianist. Piano Tuner. Talk Show Host. Novelist.
This is an interesting and complex question. It comes under the same heading as horse before the cart, and the chicken or the egg. Think about that sentence--I'll let you figure it out.

I'll start with a personal example in an attempt to clearly paint the basic dynamic. Recently, my sister who lives just six miles away in the same county--a county that is 700 miles away from the place where we were raised--told me that she feels that God has us in just the right place that He wants us to be.

I disagree. Or maybe I don't. Stay tuned.

Here is why this is so complex. I am living in this town as the result of a long string of bad decisions on my part. No. Make that ghastly decisions. But God--who knows all things--made it work out. Now, I'm not going to judge--but I feel not so deep down, that my sister ALSO made a long string of bad decisions that ultimately brought her to this town. But God has made it work out for her.

How can this be? My sister and I--separately--living "way off God's grid" ending up being in a good place for us? Living as close to God as we humanly can? After all, sanctification is a lifetime process.

Let's go to the Bible. God did not like the idea that his chosen people--Israel--wished to have a king. He felt that the system of judges--of which Samuel had been the best, and Deborah was not far behind--was best for His people. But they clamored for a king--to be like the rest of the nations.

So the Lord allowed it. In so doing, His people ended up with David--the greatest of the kings of Israel. But David was a murderer. He saw to it that Uriah did not survive the wars. David did that in order to acquire Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. Because of David's perfidy--not just with Bathsheba; saved though he was--he did not get to build the temple--that honor going to his son, Solomon. Solomon, of course, being Bathsheba's boy.

Other examples abound, with all kinds of life choice timelines. Saul of Tarsus--a terrible murderer--though he thought that he was doing God's will. God knows hearts, and because of that, God's sovereignty works in harmony with man's free will. Saul of Tarsus--a murderer; remember he supervised the stoning of Stephen, truly wanted to do what is right. David, the same. But God saw Saul's heart and offered salvation on the Road to Damascus. That turned things around for the greatest of missionaries--St. Paul.

It boils down to this: We go out there on a daily basis, and we make everything from small mistakes to gigantic blunders. Then God finds a way to meet us more than halfway. God literally picks up the pieces from our shattered lives. In short, God's sovereignty never waivers--but neither does man's free will!

This is a miracle of the first magnitude! We bollix up our lives, and God sets us back on a good path. It may not be the path that He would have laid out for us originally--but nonetheless, it works. From that standpoint, I simply have to agree with my sister! Though we did things all wrong, God found a safe landing place for us. That falls under the heading of "We Have A Fabulous And Omnipotent God Who Can Save Us From Everything--Even Ourselves.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
(Jeremiah 29:11) NIV

March 19 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Scan14 Michael Tinsley Retired Army veteran. Love my Bible (Jesus) and fishing.
The answer is truly very simple. God does know everything that will ever happen.

We _don't.

There is no futility in knowing that God is omniscient because we always have free will to make choices. Those choices are best made by praying before deciding, reading God's Word, and relying on Jesus' Holy Spirit in you to guide you to make the right decision.

We have the faith of Jesus as a gift from God to make us joyful in good or bad situations, knowing that He will always lead us on righteous paths in our walk with Him.

Knowing the future as a human and as a Christian would take the joy of living from us and then we would only be waiting for this life to end.

Christian life is wonderful when you give up trying to run things and follow rules and just _rest in Jesus' finished work. He has already done everything for you and all you need to do is walk in His footsteps.

You will be amazed because your Christian life will no longer be something you think you have to do and instead becomes something you want to do. That is God's grace at work helping you become what the Bible says you are. Stop trying and start being. You will be astonished at how your life will change.

March 05 2016 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini James Kraft 74 year old retired pipeline worker
God in His sovereignty has given man a free will. If not, Adam and Eve could not have sinned. 

Since the fall, all men are sinners. Romans 3:23 and Romans 3:10 There is none righteous no not one. 

So God sent His own Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of everyone in the whole world, First John 2:2, so that any one who would believe in Him, would receive the free gift of eternal life. John 6:47. 

John 6:40 And this is the will of Him who sent me, that ALL that seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 

It is Gods will, that everyone believe and be saved. First Timothy 2:4. But he has given us His word to believe and be saved. Jesus said this. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, that WHOSOEVER, BELIEVETH, in Him, should not perish, but HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. John 3:18 says. Believers can no longer be condemned, but unbelievers are condemned already because they have not believed on the name of the Son of God.

So, God has made a way for sinners to be saved by just believing on His name. John 1:12. That He paid our sin debt in full, past, present, and future sins we have not even thought of are all under the blood of the lamb. 

Romans 3:26-28 Since it is a free gift, we have nothing to boast in. Jesus paid it all and we paid 0. If we had to do one thing that would save us, then Jesus died in vain. We can only be saved by what He did for us apart from any works. The second we believe we are sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. Ephesians 1:13-14 and Ephesians 4:30. 

God does not force or choose who will be saved, but those who believe of their own free will are saved. John 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me HATH EVERLASTING LIFE. 

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, But the GIFT of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the POWER of God, unto everyone that BELIEVETH, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 

So God has made a way of salvation by grace through faith. Faith is not a work. Faith is what we believe. If we believe the gospel, that Jesus paid our sin debt in full and we can never be condemned again, He gives us eternal life, and seals us with the Holy Spirit who will never leave us or forsake us. Hebrews 13:5.

God has chosen some. God chose His Apostles. But Judas was an unbeliever. So God chose Paul, a Pharisee to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. 

God chose John the Baptist before He was born. But, for most, God has left the choice to man to either believe the gospel and be saved by faith alone in Christ's finished work on the cross alone or not. Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believe on Him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Romans 4:6.When we believe He imputes His perfect righteousness to us, without works. Free GIFT. 

So God in His sovereignty has given man a free will, whether to believe his gospel, First Corinthians 15:1-4, and be given eternal life or not. Those that believe it are saved and can not go to hell because we have no sins to pay for. Jesus paid for them 2000 years ago so all our sins are future sins already paid.

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name.

January 16 2020 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

Add your Answer

All answers are REVIEWED and MODERATED.
Please ensure your answer MEETS all our guidelines.

What makes a good answer? ▼

A good answer provides new insight and perspective. Here are guidelines to help facilitate a meaningful learning experience for everyone.

  1. Adhere to the eBible Statement of Faith.
  2. Your answer should be complete and stand-alone.
  3. Include supporting arguments, and scripture references if possible. Seek to answer the "why".
  4. Adhere to a proper tone and spirit of love and understanding.
  5. For more info see The Complete Guide to eBible
  1. 4000 characters remaining